LeBron Raymone James Sr. (/lbrn/ ; born December 30, 1984) is an American professional basketball player for the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association (NBA). Often compared to Michael Jordan for the title of the greatest basketball player of all time, his accomplishments include three NBA championships, four NBA Most Valuable Player Awards, three NBA Finals MVP Awards, and two Olympic gold medals. James has appeared in fifteen NBA All-Star Games and been named NBA All-Star MVP three times. He is the all-time NBA playoffs scoring leader, is fourth in all-time NBA points scored, and is eighth in all-time NBA assists. He has been voted onto the All-NBA First Team a record twelve times and the All-Defensive First Team five times.
James played basketball for St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, where he was heavily touted by the national media as a future NBA superstar. A prep-to-pro, he joined the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2003 as the first overall draft pick. Named the 2003-04 NBA Rookie of the Year, he soon established himself as one of the league’s premier players; he won the NBA Most Valuable Player Award in 2009 and 2010. After failing to win a championship with Cleveland, James left in 2010 to sign as a free agent with the Miami Heat. This move was announced in an ESPN special titled The Decision, and is one of the most controversial free agent decisions in American sports history.
James won his first two NBA championships while playing for the Miami Heat in 2012 and 2013; in both of these years, he also earned league MVP and Finals MVP. After his fourth season with the Heat in 2014, James opted out of his contract to re-sign with the Cavaliers. In 2016, he led the Cavaliers to victory over the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, delivering the franchise’s first championship and ending Cleveland’s 52-year professional sports title drought. His teams appeared in the NBA Finals in eight consecutive seasons (from 2011 to 2018). In 2018, James opted out of his contract with the Cavaliers to sign with the Lakers.
Off the court, James has accumulated additional wealth and fame from numerous endorsement contracts. His public life has been the subject of much scrutiny, and he has been ranked as one of America’s most influential and popular athletes. He has been featured in books, documentaries, and television commercials. He has also hosted the ESPY Awards and Saturday Night Live, and appeared in the 2015 film Trainwreck.
James was born on December 30, 1984 in Akron, Ohio to Gloria Marie James, who was 16 at the time of his birth.:22 His father, Anthony McClelland, has an extensive criminal record and was not involved in his life. When James was growing up, life was often a struggle for the family, as they moved from apartment to apartment in the seedier neighborhoods of Akron while Gloria struggled to find steady work. Realizing that her son would be better off in a more stable family environment, Gloria allowed him to move in with the family of Frank Walker, a local youth football coach who introduced James to basketball when he was nine years old.:23
James began playing organized basketball in the fifth grade. He later played Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball for the Northeast Ohio Shooting Stars. The team enjoyed success on a local and national level, led by James and his friends Sian Cotton, Dru Joyce III, and Willie McGee.:24 The group dubbed themselves the “Fab Four” and promised each other that they would attend high school together.:27 In a move that stirred local controversy, they chose to attend St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, a private Catholic school with predominantly white students.
High school career
As a freshman, James averaged 21 points and 6 rebounds per game for the St. Vincent-St. Mary varsity basketball team. The Fighting Irish went 27-0 en route to the Division III state title, making them the only boys high school team in Ohio to finish the season undefeated. As a sophomore, James averaged 25.2 points and 7.2 rebounds with 5.8 assists and 3.8 steals per game. For some home games during the season, St. Vincent-St. Mary played at the University of Akron‘s 5,492-seat Rhodes Arena to satisfy ticket demand from alumni, fans, as well as college and NBA scouts who wanted to see James play. The Fighting Irish finished the season 26-1 and repeated as state champions. For his outstanding play, James was named Ohio Mr. Basketball and selected to the USA Today All-USA First Team, becoming the first sophomore to do either.
Before the start of his junior year, James was featured in Slam, an American basketball magazine, and writer Ryan Jones lauded him as possibly “the best high school basketball player in America right now”. During the season, he also appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, becoming the first high school basketball underclassman to do so.:104 With averages of 29 points, 8.3 rebounds, 5.7 assists, and 3.3 steals per game, he was again named Ohio Mr. Basketball and selected to the USA Today All-USA First Team, and became the first junior to be named male basketball Gatorade National Player of the Year.:117 St. Vincent-St. Mary finished the year with a 23-4 record, ending their season with a loss in the Division II championship game.:114 Following the loss, James unsuccessfully petitioned for a change to the NBA’s draft eligibility rules in an attempt to enter the 2002 NBA draft. During this time, he used marijuana, which he said was to help cope with the stress that resulted from the constant media attention he was receiving.
Throughout his senior year, James and the Fighting Irish traveled around the country to play a number of nationally ranked teams, including a game against Oak Hill Academy that was nationally televised on ESPN2.:142Time Warner Cable, looking to capitalize on James’s popularity, offered St. Vincent-St. Mary’s games to subscribers on a pay-per-view basis throughout the season.:143 For the year, James averaged 31.6 points, 9.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 3.4 steals per game, was named Ohio Mr. Basketball and selected to the USA Today All-USA First Team for an unprecedented third consecutive year,:178 and was named Gatorade National Player of the Year for the second consecutive year. He participated in three year-end high school basketball all-star gamesthe EA Sports Roundball Classic, the Jordan Capital Classic, and the McDonald’s All-American Gamelosing his National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) eligibility and making it official that he would enter the 2003 NBA draft.
Also during his senior year, James was the centerpiece of several controversies. For his 18th birthday, he skirted state amateur bylaws by accepting a Hummer H2 as a gift from his mother, who had secured a loan for the vehicle by utilizing James’s future earning power as an NBA superstar. This prompted an investigation by the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) because its guidelines stated that no amateur may accept any gift valued over $100 as a reward for athletic performance. James was cleared of any wrongdoing because he had accepted the luxury vehicle from a family member and not from an agent or any outside source. Later in the season, James accepted two throwback jerseys worth $845 from an urban clothing store in exchange for posing for pictures, officially violating OHSAA rules and resulting in him being stripped of his high school sports eligibility. James appealed the ruling and his penalty was eventually dropped to a two-game suspension, allowing him to play the remainder of the year. The Irish were also forced to forfeit one of their wins, their only official loss that season. In his first game back after the suspension, James scored a career-high 52 points. St. Vincent-St. Mary went on to win the Division II championship, marking their third division title in four years.
As an underclassman, James played wide receiver for St. Vincent-St. Mary’s football team.:51 He was recruited by some Division I programs, including Notre Dame. At the conclusion of his sophomore year, he was named first team all-state, and as a junior, he helped lead the Fighting Irish to the state semifinals. He did not play during his senior year because of a wrist injury that he sustained in an AAU basketball game. Some sports analysts, football critics, high school coaches, former and current players have speculated that James could have played in the National Football League.[a]
2003-2004: Rookie season
James was selected by his hometown team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, as the first overall pick of the 2003 NBA draft. In his first regular season game, he scored 25 points against the Sacramento Kings, setting an NBA record for most points scored by a prep-to-pro player in his debut performance. At the conclusion of the season, he became the first Cavalier to receive the NBA Rookie of the Year Award, and with final averages of 20.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game, he also became just the third player in league history to average at least 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists per game as a rookie. Cleveland ultimately finished the season 35-47, failing to make the playoffs despite an 18-game improvement over the previous year.
2004-2008: Rise to superstardom
James earned his first NBA All-Star Game selection in 2004-05, contributing 13 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists in a winning effort for the Eastern Conference. Around the league, teams took note of his rapid development, with Denver Nuggets coach George Karl telling Sports Illustrated, “It’s weird talking about a 20-year-old kid being a great player, but he is a great player … He’s the exception to almost every rule.” On March 20, James scored 56 points against the Toronto Raptors, setting Cleveland’s new single-game points record. With final averages of 27.2 points, 7.4 rebounds, 7.2 assists, and 2.2 steals per game, he was named to his first All-NBA Team. Despite a 30-20 record to start the year, the Cavaliers again failed to make the playoffs, finishing the season 42-40.
At the 2006 All-Star Game, James led the East to victory with 29 points and was named the NBA All-Star Game Most Valuable Player. Behind final season averages of 31.4 points, 7 rebounds, and 6.6 assists per game, he also finished second in overall NBA Most Valuable Player Award voting to Steve Nash. Under James’s leadership, the Cavaliers qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 1998. In his postseason debut, James recorded a triple-double in a winning effort versus the Washington Wizards. In Game 3 of the series, he made the first game-winning shot of his career, making another in Game 5. Cleveland would go on to defeat the Wizards before being ousted by the Detroit Pistons in the second round.
In 2006-07, James’s averages declined to 27.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, 6 assists, and 1.6 steals per game. Some analysts attributed the fall to a regression in his passing skills and shot selection, which stemmed from a lack of effort and focus. The Cavaliers finished the season with 50 wins for the second consecutive year and entered the playoffs as the East’s second seed. In Game 5 of the NBA Conference Finals, James notched 48 points with 9 rebounds and 7 assists, scoring 29 of Cleveland’s last 30 points, including the game-winning layup with two seconds left, against the Pistons. After the game, play-by-play announcer Marv Albert called the performance “one of the greatest moments in postseason history” and color commentator Steve Kerr described it as “Jordan-esque”. In 2012, ESPN ranked the performance the fourth greatest in modern NBA playoff history. The Cavaliers went on to win Game 6 and claim their first-ever Eastern Conference championship, earning them a matchup with the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals. During the championship round, James struggled, averaging 22 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 6.8 assists per game on just 35.6 percent shooting, and Cleveland was eliminated in a sweep.
In February of the 2007-08 season, James was named All-Star Game MVP for the second time behind a 27-point, 8-rebound, and 9-assist performance. On March 21, he moved past Brad Daugherty as the Cavaliers’ all-time leading scorer in a game against the Raptors, doing so in over 100 less games than Daugherty. His 30 points per game were also the highest in the league, marking his first scoring title. Despite his individual accomplishments, Cleveland’s record fell from the year before to 45-37. Seeded fourth in the East entering the playoffs, the Cavaliers defeated the Wizards in the first round for the third consecutive season before being eliminated in seven games by the eventual-champion Boston Celtics in the next round. During the decisive seventh game in Boston, James scored 45 points and Paul Pierce scored 41 in a game the Associated Press described as a “shootout”.
2008-2010: MVP seasons
At the conclusion of the 2008-09 season, James finished second in NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award voting and made his first NBA All-Defensive Team, posting 23 chase-down blocks and a career-high 93 total blocks. He also became only the fourth postmerger player to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks in a single season. Behind his play and the acquisition of All-Star guard Mo Williams, Cleveland went a franchise record 66-16 and fell just one game short of matching the best home record in league history. With final averages of 28.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1.7 steals, and 1.2 blocks per game, James became the first Cavalier to win the MVP Award. Reflecting on James’s performance for ESPN, John Hollinger later wrote, “He’s having what is arguably the greatest individual season in history, and it’s time we gave him his due for it.”
In the playoffs, Cleveland swept the Pistons and the Atlanta Hawks to earn a matchup with the Orlando Magic in the Conference Finals. In Game 1 of the series, James scored 49 points on 66 percent shooting in a losing effort for the Cavaliers. In Game 2, he hit a game-winner to tie the series at 1-1. Cleveland would lose the series in six games, and following the loss in Game 6, James immediately left the floor without shaking hands with his opponents, which was an act that many media members viewed as unsportsmanlike. For the series, he averaged 38.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 8 assists per game, finishing the postseason with a career playoff-high 35.3 points per game.
In February of the 2009-10 season, James was forced into a temporary point guard role following a series of injuries to players in the Cavaliers’ backcourt. Behind his leadership, Cleveland lost no momentum, finishing the year with the best record in the league for the second consecutive season. Due in part to his increased minutes as the Cavaliers’ primary ball handler, James increased his statistical production, averaging 29.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 8.6 assists, 1.6 steals, and 1 block per game on 50 percent shooting en route to another MVP Award. To open the playoffs, Cleveland advanced past the Bulls to earn a matchup with the Celtics in the second round. James was heavily criticized for not playing well in Game 5 of the series, shooting only 20 percent on 14 shots and scoring 15 points. The team suffered its worst loss in franchise history, and at the conclusion of the game, James walked off the court to a smattering of boos from Cleveland’s home crowd. The Cavaliers were officially eliminated from the postseason in Game 6, with James posting 27 points, 19 rebounds, 10 assists, and nine turnovers in the losing effort.
James became an unrestricted free agent at 12:01 am EDT on July 1, 2010. During this time, he was contacted by several teams, including the Bulls, Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat, New York Knicks, New Jersey Nets, and Cavaliers. On July 8, he announced on a live ESPN special titled The Decision that he would sign with the Heat. The telecast was broadcast from the Boys & Girls Club of Greenwich, Connecticut and raised $2.5 million for the charity. An additional $3.5 million was raised from advertising revenue, which was donated to other charities. The day before the special, fellow free agents Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade also announced that they would sign with Miami; reports later arose that back in 2006 the trio had discussed among themselves their upcoming 2010 free agencies. James decided to join with Bosh and Wade in part so that he could shoulder less of the offensive load; he thought that his improved teammates would give him a better chance of winning an NBA championship than had he stayed in Cleveland. Heat president Pat Riley played a major role in selling James on the idea of playing with Bosh and Wade. James would be relieved of the burden of scoring, and he thought he could be the first player since Oscar Robertson to average a triple-double in a season.
Upon leaving the Cavaliers, James drew intense criticism from sports analysts, executives, fans, and current and former players. The Decision itself was also scrutinized and viewed as unnecessary. Many thought that the prolonged wait for James’s choice was unprofessional as not even the teams courting him were aware of his decision until moments before the show. Upon learning that James would not be returning to Cleveland, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert published an open letter to fans in which he aggressively denounced James’s actions. Some angry fans of the team recorded videos of themselves burning his jersey. Former NBA players, including Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, were also critical of James, condemning him for joining with Bosh and Wade in Miami and not trying to win a championship as “the man”. James drew further criticism in a September interview with CNN when he claimed that race might have been a factor in the fallout from The Decision. As a result of his actions during the 2010 free agency period, he quickly gained a reputation as one of America’s most disliked athletes, which was a radical change from prior years. The phrase “taking my talents to South Beach” became a punch line for critics. In retrospect, James has expressed some regret over his handling of The Decision.
2010-2011: Year of media and fan scrutiny
James officially signed with the Heat on July 10, 2010. With the move, he became only the third reigning MVP to change teams and the first since Moses Malone in 1982. That evening, the Heat threw a welcome party for their new “big three” at the American Airlines Arena, an event that took on a rock concert atmosphere. During the gathering, James predicted a dynasty for the Heat and alluded to multiple championships. Outside of Miami, the spectacle was not well-received, furthering the negative public perception of James.
Throughout the 2010-11 season, the media and opposing fanbases treated James and the Heat as villains. To begin the year, they struggled to adjust to these new circumstances, going only 9-8 after 17 games. James later admitted that the constant negativity surrounding the team made him play with an angrier demeanor than in years past. On December 2, James faced the Cavaliers in Cleveland for the first time since departing as a free agent. He scored 38 points and led Miami to a win while being booed every time he touched the ball. The Heat eventually turned their season around and finished as the East’s second seed, with James averaging 26.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 7 assists per game on 51 percent shooting.
In the conference semifinals, James and his teammates found themselves matched up with the Celtics for the second consecutive year. In Game 5, he scored Miami’s last ten points to help seal a series-clinching win. After the final buzzer, he famously knelt on the court in an emotional moment, later telling reporters that it was an extremely personal victory for him and the team. The Heat eventually advanced to the Finals, where they were defeated by the Dallas Mavericks in six games. James received the brunt of the criticism for the loss, averaging only three points in fourth quarters in the series. His Finals scoring average of 17.8 points per game signified an 8.9-point drop from the regular season, the largest point drop-off in league history.
2011-2013: Back-to-back championships
James was humbled by the Heat’s loss to the Mavericks, and the experience inspired him to leave behind the villain role that he had been embracing, which helped him regain a sense of joy on the court. He also decided that his post game needed improvement, so he worked with Hakeem Olajuwon during the offseason. Behind James’s significantly-expanded skillset, Miami began the year with a franchise-best 18-6 record. He was eventually named MVP for the third time, finishing with averages of 27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists, and 1.9 steals per game on 53 percent shooting.
In the second round of the playoffs, Miami temporarily lost Chris Bosh to an abdominal injury and found themselves trailing the Indiana Pacers 2-1. James responded with a 40-point, 18-rebound, and 9-assist outing in Game 4 to help even the series. To compensate for Bosh’s absence, the Heat embraced a small-ball lineup with James at power forward, which they retained even after Bosh’s return in the Conference Finals against the Celtics. Facing elimination in Game 6, James recorded 45 points and 15 rebounds to lead the Heat to victory in what The New York Times called a “career-defining performance”. Miami won Game 7 to advance to the Finals, earning them a matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder and James’s budding rival, Kevin Durant. Late in Game 4 of the series, James hit a three-pointer to give the Heat a lead, helping them win the game despite missing time with leg cramps. In Game 5, he registered a triple-double as Miami defeated Oklahoma City for their second-ever championship and James’s first championship. James was unanimously voted the Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player with averages of 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 7.4 assists per game. His full postseason run, in which he averaged 30.3 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 5.6 assists per game, was later ranked the second best in modern NBA history by ESPN.
In February of the 2012-13 season, James averaged 29.7 points and 7.8 assists per game while setting multiple shooting efficiency records. That same month, the Heat also began a 27-game winning streak, which is the third longest in NBA history. Based on these accomplishments, James’s performance was described as a “month for the ages” by Sports Illustrated. Miami eventually finished the year with a franchise and league best 66-16 record, and James was named MVP for the fourth time, falling just one vote shy of becoming the first player in NBA history to win the award unanimously. His final season averages were 26.8 points, 8 rebounds, 7.3 assists, and 1.7 steals per game on 56.5 percent shooting.
In Game 1 of the Conference Finals, James scored a buzzer-beating layup to give Miami a one-point victory against the Pacers. Throughout the series, his supporting cast struggled significantly, and his added scoring load prompted him to compare his responsibilities to those of his “Cleveland days”. Despite these struggles, the Heat advanced to the Finals for a meeting with the Spurs, signifying a rematch for James from his first Finals six years earlier. At the beginning of the series, he was criticized for his lack of aggressiveness and poor shot selection as Miami fell behind 2-3. In Game 6, he recorded his second triple-double of the series, including 16 fourth quarter points, to lead the Heat to a comeback victory. In Game 7, he tied the Finals record for most points scored in a Game 7 victory, leading Miami over San Antonio with 37 points. He was named Finals MVP for the second straight season, averaging 25.3 points, 10.9 rebounds, 7 assists, and 2.3 steals per game for the championship round.
2013-2014: Final season in Miami
On March 3 of the 2013-14 season, James scored a career-high and franchise-record 61 points in a game against the Charlotte Bobcats. Throughout the year, he was one of the few staples for a Heat roster that used 20 different starting lineups due to injuries, finishing with averages of 27.1 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 6.4 assists per game on 56.7 percent shooting. In the second round of the playoffs, he tied a career postseason-high by scoring 49 points in Game 4 against the Brooklyn Nets. In the next round, Miami defeated the Pacers to earn their fourth consecutive Finals berth, becoming one of only four teams in NBA history to do so. In Game 1 of the Finals, James missed most of the fourth quarter because of leg cramps, helping the Spurs take an early series lead. In Game 2, he led the Heat to a series-tying victory with 35 points on a 64 percent shooting rate. San Antonio eventually eliminated the Heat in five games, ending Miami’s quest for a three-peat. For the Finals, James averaged 28.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.0 steals per game.
Return to the Cavaliers
On June 25, 2014, James opted out of his contract with the Heat, and on July 1, he officially became an unrestricted free agent. On July 11, he revealed via a first-person essay in Sports Illustrated that he intended to return to the Cavaliers. In contrast to The Decision, his announcement to return to Cleveland was well received. On July 12, he officially signed with the team, who had compiled a league-worst 97-215 record in the four seasons following his departure. A month after James’s signing, the Cavaliers acquired Kevin Love from the Minnesota Timberwolves, forming a new star trio along with Kyrie Irving.
2014-2016: Ending Cleveland’s championship drought
James throws a pass in a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves as Gorgui Dieng defends in December 2014. Later that season, he reached several passing milestones, including becoming the Cavaliers’ all-time assists leader.
In January of the 2014-15 season, James missed two weeks due to left knee and lower back strains, which represented the longest stretch of missed games in his career. In total, he played a career-low 69 games and his final averages were 25.3 points, 6 rebounds, and 7.4 assists per game. In the second round of the playoffs, he hit a baseline jumper at the buzzer to give Cleveland a 2-2 series tie with the Bulls. In the Conference Finals, the Cavaliers defeated the Hawks to advance to the Finals, making James the first player since the 1960s to play in five consecutive Finals. For most of the Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Irving and Love were sidelined due to injury, giving James more offensive responsibilities. Behind his leadership, the Cavaliers opened the series with a 2-1 lead before being eliminated in six games. Despite the loss, he received serious consideration for the Finals MVP Award, averaging 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds, and 8.8 assists per game for the championship round.
During the 2015-16 season, James was criticized for his role in several off-court controversies, including the midseason firing of Cavaliers’ coach David Blatt. Despite these distractions, Cleveland finished the year with 57 wins and the best record in the East. James’s final averages were 25.3 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 6.8 assists per game on 52 percent shooting. In the playoffs, the Cavaliers advanced comfortably to the Finals, losing only two games en route to a rematch with the Warriors, who were coming off a record-setting 73-win season. To begin the series, Cleveland fell behind 3-1, including two blowout losses. James responded by registering back-to-back 41 point games in Games 5 and 6, leading the Cavaliers to two consecutive wins to stave off elimination. In Game 7, he posted a triple-double and made a number of key plays, including “The Block” on Andre Iguodala, as Cleveland emerged victorious, winning the city’s first professional sports title in 52 years and becoming the first team in NBA history to come back from a 3-1 series deficit in the Finals. James became just the third player to record a triple-double in an NBA Finals Game 7, and behind series averages of 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 2.3 blocks, and 2.6 steals per game, he also became the first player in league history to lead both teams in all five statistical categories for a playoff round, culminating in a unanimous Finals MVP selection.
2016-2018: End of second stint in Cleveland
The 2016-17 season was marred by injuries and unexpected losses for the Cavaliers; James later described it as one of the “strangest” years of his career. Following a January defeat to the New Orleans Pelicans, he publicly criticized Cleveland’s front office for constructing a team that he felt was too “top heavy”, for which he received countercriticism. The Cavaliers finished the season as the East’s second seed, with James averaging 26.4 points and career highs in rebounds (8.6), assists (8.7), and turnovers (4.1) per game. In Game 3 of the first round of the postseason, he registered 41 points, 13 rebounds, and 12 assists against the Pacers, leading Cleveland to a comeback victory after trailing by 25 points at halftime, representing the largest halftime deficit overcome in NBA playoff history. In Game 5 of the Conference Finals against the Celtics, James scored 35 points and surpassed Michael Jordan as the league’s all-time postseason scoring leader. The Cavaliers won the game and the series, advancing to their third consecutive Finals against the Warriors, who had signed James’ rival Kevin Durant during the offseason. Behind averages of 33.6 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists per game, James became the first player to average a triple-double in the Finals, but Cleveland was defeated in five games.
Prior to the start of the 2017-18 season, the Cavaliers overhauled their roster by trading Kyrie Irving to the Celtics, who requested a trade in part because he no longer wanted to play with James. After a slow start to the year, Cleveland rebounded by winning 18 of 19 games in December. Their turnaround began with a victory over the Wizards where James scored 57 points, which represented the second-highest point total of his career and tied a franchise record. In January, the Cavaliers had a losing record, and James was criticized for his lackluster effort. Following another round of trades in February, Cleveland returned to form and James reached a number of historical milestones; for example, on March 30, he set an NBA record with 867 straight games scoring in double digits. James eventually finished the season with averages of 27.5 points, 8.6 rebounds, and a career-high 9.2 assists and 4.2 turnovers per game. In the playoffs, he guided the Cavaliers to another Finals rematch with the Warriors. Along the way, he had some of the most memorable moments of his career, including a game-winning shot against the Pacers and another against the Raptors. In the first game of the Finals, James scored a playoff career-high 51 points, but Cleveland was defeated in overtime. Following the defeat, James injured his hand after punching a wall in the locker room, which hindered his effectiveness for the remainder of the series. The Cavaliers lost the series in four games, with James averaging 34 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 10 assists per game for the Finals.
Los Angeles Lakers
On June 29, 2018, James opted out of his contract with the Cavaliers and became an unrestricted free agent. On July 1, his management company, Klutch Sports, announced that he would sign with the Los Angeles Lakers; the deal was officially completed on July 9. In an interview with Sports Illustrated, James’s agent, Rich Paul, explained, “In 2010, when he went to Miami, it was about championships. In 2014, when he went back to Cleveland, it was about delivering on a promise. In 2018, it was just about doing what he wants to do.” Reaction to the move was more positive than his original departure from the Cavaliers, albeit still mixed, as some onlookers felt that Los Angeles was not his optimal destination.
Following James’s signing, the Lakers rounded out their roster with a controversial collection of playmakers and veterans. As a result, to begin the 2018-19 season, the team struggled to find effective lineups and recorded only two wins through their first seven games. In November, they began a turnaround, which included two of James’s strongest performances of the season. On November 14, he registered 44 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists in a victory against the Portland Trail Blazers, and four days later he scored a season-high 51 points in a win over the Heat. After blowing out the Warriors on Christmas Day, Los Angeles improved their record to 20-14, but James suffered a groin injury in the process. He ultimately missed a career-high 17 consecutive games, and the Lakers fell out of playoff contention without him. The team was unable to recover and failed to qualify for the postseason, marking the first time that James missed the playoffs since 2005 and the first time he failed to reach the Finals since 2010. On March 7, the Lakers announced that James would begin a minutes restriction, and on March 30, he was officially ruled out for the remainder of the season. James’s final averages were 27.4 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 8.3 assists per game, and despite his inconsistent campaign, he was ultimately named to the All-NBA Third Team, marking the first time in 12 years that he did not make the All-NBA First Team.
National team career
James made his debut for the United States national team at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece. He spent the Games mostly on the bench, averaging 14.6 minutes per game with 5.8 points and 2.6 rebounds per game in eight games. Team USA finished the competition with a bronze medal, becoming the first U.S. basketball team to return home without a gold medal since adding active NBA players to their lineup. James felt his limited playing time was a “lowlight” and believed he was not given “a fair opportunity to play”. His attitude during the Olympics was described as “disrespectful” and “distasteful” by columnists Adrian Wojnarowski and Peter Vecsey, respectively.
At the 2006 FIBA World Championship in Japan, James took on a greater role for Team USA, averaging 13.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game as co-captain. The team finished the tournament with an 8-1 record, winning another bronze medal. James’s behavior was again questioned, this time by teammate Bruce Bowen, who confronted James during tryouts regarding his treatment of staff members.
Before naming James to the 2008 Olympic team, Team USA managing director Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski gave James an ultimatum to improve his attitude, and he heeded their advice. At the FIBA Americas Championship 2007, he averaged 18.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game, including a 31-point performance against Argentina in the championship game, the most ever by an American in an Olympic qualifier. Team USA went 10-0, winning the gold medal and qualifying for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China. James credited the team’s attitude and experience for their improvement, saying: “I don’t think we understood what it meant to put on a USA uniform and all the people that we were representing in 2004. We definitely know that now.” At the Olympics, Team USA went unbeaten, winning their first gold medal since 2000. In the final game, James turned in 14 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists against Spain.
James did not play at the 2010 FIBA World Championship but rejoined Team USA for the 2012 Olympics in London, England. He became the leader of the team with Kobe Bryant, who would soon be 34, stepping back. James facilitated the offense from the post and perimeter, called the defensive sets, and provided scoring when needed. During a game against Australia, he recorded the first triple-double in U.S. Olympic basketball history with 11 points, 14 rebounds and 12 assists.[b] Team USA went on to win their second straight gold medal, again defeating Spain in the final game. James contributed 19 points in the win, becoming the all-time leading scorer in U.S. men’s basketball history. He also joined Michael Jordan as the only players to win an NBA MVP award, NBA championship, NBA Finals MVP, and Olympic gold medal in the same year. Afterwards, Krzyzewski said James “is the best player, he is the best leader and he is as smart as anybody playing the game right now.”
Standing 6 feet 9 inches (2.06 m) and weighing 250 pounds (113 kg), James has started at small forward and power forward, but he can also play the other three positions. His athletic and versatile playing style has drawn comparisons to Hall of Famers Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson, and Michael Jordan. As of June 2019, James’s career averages are 27.2 points, 7.4 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1.6 steals, and 0.8 blocks per game. Since 2011, he has been ranked the best player in the NBA by ESPN and Sports Illustrated.
As an 18-year-old rookie, James led the Cavaliers in scoring. He holds numerous “youngest to” distinctions, including being the youngest player to score 30,000 career points. During his first stint in Cleveland, he was primarily used as an on-ball point forward, and although his shooting tendencies were perimeter-oriented, he established himself as one of the best slashers and finishers in basketball. His combination of speed, quickness, and size often created matchup problems for opposing teams because he was capable of blowing by larger defenders and overpowering smaller ones. These qualities became more apparent in transition, where he developed a reputation for grabbing defensive rebounds and then beating the defense downcourt for highlight reel baskets. Around this time, James was frequently criticized for not having a reliable jump shot or post game. Teams would try to exploit these weaknesses by giving him space in the half court and forcing him to settle for three-pointers and long two-pointers, a strategy famously used by Spurs coach Gregg Popovich in the 2007 Finals, where James converted on only 36 percent of his field goals in four games.
In Miami, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra changed James’s role to a more unconventional one. James spent more time in the post and improved his shot selection and accuracy on jump shots. He also learned how to work as an off-ball cutter in the Heat’s “pass-happy” offense. Behind these improvements, James’s overall scoring efficiency rose to historically great levels. During this time, ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh called James’s free-throw shooting his biggest weakness, describing it as “average”. Upon returning to the Cavaliers, James began to experience subtle age-related declines in productivity, posting his lowest scoring averages since his rookie season in 2015 and 2016. His shooting also temporarily regressed, and he briefly ranked as the NBA’s worst high-volume shooter from outside the paint. Despite these changes, he remained an elite offensive player who beat defenses with body control, strength, and varying attacking speeds.
For most of his career, James has controlled the offense as the primary ball handler on his team. His playmaking ability is generally considered one of his premier skills, and some analysts rank him among the greatest passers in NBA history. By exploiting his size, vision, and the attention he garners from opposing defenses, James creates easy points for his teammates with accurate assists. He executes unconventional passes, including after leaving his feet and through defensive traffic. His uncanny tendency to find the open man has helped force NBA teams to incorporate some elements of zone into their schemes to better cover the weak side of the court and prevent James from passing to open shooters. Early in James’s career, he was criticized for overpassing in pressure situations; specifically, for passing instead of shooting in the waning seconds of close games. However, as his career progressed, James’s clutch performance was viewed more favorably.
At the beginning of James’s NBA career, he was considered a poor defensive player, but he improved steadily through the years. In 2009, he became proficient at the chase-down block, which involves coming in from behind the opposition in transition to block their shot. In Miami, he developed into a more versatile defensive player, and the Heat relied on him to guard all five positions. Along with Shane Battier and Dwyane Wade, Miami used James in an ultra-aggressive defensive scheme, with James cheating off the ball to help out inside or get into rebounding position. Beginning in 2014, some analysts noted a regression in his defensive impact, stemming from a lack of effort and expected age-related declines. During his second stint in Cleveland, his defense progressively declined. After missed drives on offense, he often dawdled back on defense while complaining to the referees; he provided less help off the ball; and he was less aggressive in switching. James himself admitted to taking plays off at times, referring to this approach as “chill mode”. He eventually developed a reputation for raising his defensive level in the playoffs, which some analysts referred to as “Playoff LeBron”.
James left high school as one of the most hyped NBA prospects of all-time.[c] Upon entering the NBA, he made an immediate impact and was voted Rookie of the Year in his debut season. As of June 2019, he has been named to 15 All-NBA Teams, which is tied for the most in league history, and 12 All-NBA first teams, which is an NBA record. His four MVP awards are matched only by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, and Bill Russell; James and Russell are the only players to win four MVP awards in a five-year span. James has also won three Finals MVP Awards, which is tied for the second-most all-time, and earned All-Defensive honors every season from 2009 to 2014. While James has never won the Defensive Player of the Year Award, he has finished second in the voting twice and lists it as one of his main goals. His teams have appeared in the Finals nine times and won three championships. Some analysts have criticized him for not having a better Finals record, while others have defended him, arguing that James usually performed well but his team was defeated by superior competition.
James is widely considered to be one of the greatest basketball players ever. In February 2016, he was ranked fifth by Sports Illustrated; in March 2016, he was ranked third by ESPN; in February 2017, he was ranked second by CBS Sports; in December 2017, he was ranked second by Fox Sports; and in February 2018, he was ranked second by Slam Magazine. He is often mentioned as the greatest player of all-time, which has resulted in frequent comparisons to Michael Jordan. In February 2018, Bill Simmons’ website, The Ringer, spent an entire week devoted to both players, with Simmons ultimately concluding that Jordan was still ahead. Coaches and players have also debated James’s status, such as Steve Kerr, who posited that James and Jordan are the two best players in history.Brian Windhorst, who spent his career covering James, said, “No one has ever had as much hype as James has had to live up to, and James has delivered on every last drop.”
On December 29, 2019, The Associated Press named James as its Male Athlete of the Decade for the 2010s.
Off the court
James has three children with Savannah Brinson, his high school sweetheart: Bronny (b. 2004), Bryce (b. 2007), and Zhuri (b. 2014). James proposed to Brinson at a December 31, 2011, party celebrating New Year’s Eve and his 27th birthday, and the two were married on September 14, 2013, in San Diego, California.
During his stint with the Heat, James resided in Coconut Grove, where he bought a $9 million three-story mansion overlooking Biscayne Bay. In November 2015, James bought a 9,350 square-foot (870 m2) East Coast-style mansion in Brentwood, Los Angeles, for about $21 million.
By 2015, James was considered by many people, including his fellow NBA players, to be the “face of the NBA”. His opinions have yielded significant influence on people who make important league decisions; for example, in 2014 he asked commissioner Adam Silver to increase the duration of the All-Star break, and the request was granted the following season. On February 13, 2015, James was elected the first vice president of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA).
Throughout his career, James has been ranked by Forbes as one of the world’s most influential athletes, and in 2017, he was listed by Time as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. During his first stint with the Cavaliers, he was adored by local fans, and Sherwin-Williams displayed a giant Nike-produced banner of James on its world headquarters. Despite their affection for James, Cleveland fans and critics were frequently annoyed when he sported a Yankees hat when he attended Cleveland Indians baseball games versus the New York Yankees. Following his actions during the 2010 free agency period and, more specifically, The Decision, he was listed as one of most disliked athletes in the US. By 2013, his image had mostly recovered and he was reported by ESPN as the most popular player in the NBA for the second time in his career. In 2014, he was named the most popular male athlete in America by the Harris Poll. He has led the league in jersey sales six times.
In March 2008, James became the first black manand third man overall after Richard Gere and George Clooneyto appear on the cover of Vogue, when he posed with Gisele Bndchen. In response, noted ESPN columnist Jemele Hill considered the cover offensive and “memorable for the wrong reasons”, describing the demeanor of James and his holding Bndchen as a reference to classic imagery of the movie monster King Kong, a dark savage capturing his light-skinned love interest.
During the 2019 Hong Kong protests, James has found himself in public controversy over a statement he made about a now-deleted tweet by Daryl Morey, in which Morey expressed support for the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. James said Morey was misinformed.
Media figure and business interests
James is represented by agent Rich Paul of Klutch Sports. His first agent was Aaron Goodwin, whom he left in 2005 for Leon Rose. Rose joined Creative Artists Agency (CAA) in 2007, and he worked with fellow CAA agent Henry Thomas, who represented Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, to bring James to Miami in 2010. James left CAA for Paul in 2012. James, Paul, Maverick Carter, and Randy Mimsall childhood friendsformed agent and sports-marketing company LRMR after James left Goodwin. LRMR handles James’s marketing, including the marketing of The Decision, for which it was criticized.
Throughout his career, James has taken a unique approach to his NBA contracts, usually opting to sign shorter-term deals in order to maximize his earnings potential and flexibility; for example, in 2006, he and the Cavaliers negotiated a three-year, $60 million contract extension instead of the four-year maximum as it allotted him the option of seeking a new contract worth more money as an unrestricted free agent following the 2010 season. This move ultimately allowed James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh to sign together with the Heat. During his second stint in Cleveland, he began opting out and re-signing on new contracts after each season in order to take advantage of higher salaries resulting from the NBA’s rising salary cap. In 2016, he signed with the Cavaliers on a three-year deal, becoming the highest-paid player in the league for the first time in his career.
James has signed numerous endorsement contracts; some of the companies that he has done business with are Audemars Piguet,Coca-Cola,Dunkin’ Brands,McDonald’s,Nike,State Farm and Beats by Dre. Coming out of high school, he was the target of a three-way bidding war among Nike, Reebok, and Adidas, eventually signing with Nike for approximately $90 million. His signature shoes have performed well for Nike. In 2011, Fenway Sports Group became the sole global marketer of his rights, and as part of the deal, he was granted a minority stake in the English Premier League football club Liverpool, who he has claimed his support for. As a result of James’s endorsement money and NBA salary, he has been listed as one of the world’s highest-paid athletes. In 2013, he surpassed Kobe Bryant as the highest paid basketball player in the world, with earnings of $56.5 million. In 2014, James realized a profit of more than $30 million as part of Apple‘s acquisition of Beats Electronics; he had originally struck a deal to get a small stake in the company at its inception in exchange for promoting its headphones. In 2015, he was ranked the sixth highest earning sportsperson, and third highest in 2016 (after Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi). James has stated that he would like to own an NBA team in the future, albeit in a hands-off capacity. In 2011, James co-founded the designer retail store UNKNWN in Miami, Florida.
James and comedian Jimmy Kimmel co-hosted the 2007 ESPY Awards. In other comedic pursuits, he hosted the 33rd-season premiere of Saturday Night Live. He has also tried his hand at acting, appearing in a cameo role on the HBO series Entourage. In 2015, he played himself in the Judd Apatow film Trainwreck, receiving positive reviews for his performance. That same year, James’s digital video company, Uninterrupted, raised $15.8 million from Warner Bros. Entertainment and Turner Sports to help expand the company’s efforts to bring athlete-created content to fans. It is hosted on Bleacher Report and is used by several other athletes including New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman.
James and his business partner Maverick Carter own production company SpringHill Entertainment, whose first work was the Lions Gate documentary More Than a Game, which was released in 2009 and chronicled James’s high school years. Series produced by SpringHill include NBC game show The Wall, the Disney XD sports documentaries Becoming,Starz sitcom Survivor’s Remorse, and animated web series The LeBrons. In 2016, CNBC aired an unscripted series hosted by James called Cleveland Hustles, where four up-and-coming Northern Ohio entrepreneurs will be financed on the condition of revitalizing a neighborhood in Cleveland. In the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival, a 60-minute Vince Carter documentary entitled The Carter Effect was executive produced by James and Maverick Carter along with rapper Drake and Future the Prince. In February 2018 it was announced that James’s production company will produce a new film in the House Party series with James expected to make a cameo. Later that month, Fox News journalist Laura Ingraham told James to “Shut up and dribble” as a response to his political agendas. This largely contributed to James creating a documentary series looking at the changing role of athletes in the current political and cultural climate, aptly named, Shut Up and Dribble on Showtime.
During the 2019 offseason, James filed for a trademark (through a shell company) on the term “Taco Tuesday” for use in downloadable audio/visual works, podcasts, social media, online marketing, and entertainment services. This was related to James’ use of the term on Instagram for his family’s taco dinners. The request was denied by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, stating that Taco Tuesday was “a commonplace term, message or expression widely used by a variety of sources that merely conveys an ordinary, familiar, well-recognized concept or sentiment.”
In February 2019, it was revealed that James would executive produce rapper 2 Chainz’s new album, Rap or Go to the League. A Def Jam press release said the intent of the album is “celebrating black excellence and focusing on the power of education and entrepreneurship.” The press release also says the title “challenges the notion that the only way out of the inner city is either to become a rapper or a ball player”.
James is an active supporter of non-profit organizations, including After-School All-Stars, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and Children’s Defense Fund. He also has his own charity foundation, the LeBron James Family Foundation, which is based in Akron. Since 2005, the foundation has held an annual bike-a-thon to raise money for various causes. In 2015, James announced a partnership with the University of Akron to provide scholarships for as many as 2,300 children beginning in 2021. In 2016, he donated $2.5 million to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture to support an exhibit on Muhammad Ali. In 2017, he received the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award from the NBA for his “outstanding service and dedication to the community.” In November of that same year, the Akron School Board approved the “I Promise School“, a public elementary school created in a partnership with the LeBron James Family Foundation to help struggling elementary school students stay in school. James later reflected that it was his most important professional accomplishment of his life. The school officially opened on July 30, 2018.
Throughout his career, James has taken stances on controversial issues. On several occasions, he mentioned a feeling of obligation to affect change using his status. Those include the War in Darfur, the Trayvon Martin case, the now-former NBA owner Donald Sterling‘s racist comments in 2014, the Michael Brown verdict, and the death of Eric Garner. Following a racist incident at his Los Angeles home in 2017, James expressed, “being black in America is tough. We got a long way to go for us as a society and for us as African Americans until we feel equal in America.” Later on that year, in the aftermath of the Unite the Right rally, James questioned the “Make America Great Again” slogan and said, “It’s sad what’s going on in Charlottesville. Is this the direction our country is heading? Make America Great Again huh?” He then said that “Our youth deserve better!!” James also called Trump a “bum” after the president rescinded a White House invitation to Stephen Curry. During a 2018 interview with CNN journalist Don Lemon, James accused Trump for attempting to divide the country with sports, suggesting that “sports has never been something that divides people it’s always been something that brings someone together.” He declared he would “never sit across from him. I’d sit across from Barack though.” In response, Trump tweeted, “LeBron James was just interviewed by the dumbest man on television, Don Lemon. He made LeBron look smart, which isn’t easy to do.” James has supported Colin Kaepernick in the aftermath of his participation in the national anthem protests, claiming that he was being “blackballed” from a new contract in the National Football League, and that he would hire him if he owned a football team. He has worn his clothing in a show of support several times.
In June 2008, James donated $20,000 to a committee to elect Barack Obama as president. Later that year, James gathered almost 20,000 people at the Quicken Loans Arena for a viewing of Obama’s 30-minute American Stories, American Solutions television advertisement. The advertisement was shown on a large screen above the stage, where Jay-Z later held a free concert. In November 2016, James endorsed and campaigned for Hillary Clinton for the 2016 presidential election.
NBA career statistics
Awards and honors
- 3 NBA Champion: 2012, 2013, 2016
- 3 NBA Finals Most Valuable Player: 2012, 2013, 2016
- 4 NBA Most Valuable Player: 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013
- 15 NBA All-Star: 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019
- 3 NBA All-Star Game MVP: 2006, 2008, 2018
- 15 All-NBA selection:
- 6 NBA All-Defensive selection:
- NBA Rookie of the Year: 2004
- NBA All-Rookie First Team: 2004
- NBA Scoring Champion: 2008
- 3 NBA minutes leader: 2007, 2017, 2018
- J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award: 2017
- National team
- 2 Olympic Gold Medal winner: 2008, 2012
- 2004 Olympic Bronze Medal winner
- 2006 FIBA World Championship Bronze Medal winner
- 2007 FIBA Americas Championship Gold Medal winner
- 2012 USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year
- Commemorative banner in Miami’s American Airlines Arena (for his 2012 gold medal won as a member of the Miami Heat)
- High school
- 2003 National Champion
- 3 OHSAA Champion: 2000, 2001, 2003
- 2003 Naismith Prep Player of the Year
- 2 Gatorade National Player of the Year 2002, 2003
- 2 USA Today High School Player of the Year 2002, 2003
- 3 Ohio Mr. Basketball: 2001, 2002, 2003
- 3 USA Today All-USA First Team: 2001, 2002, 2003
- 2 PARADE High School Player of the Year: 2002, 2003
- 2003 McDonald’s National Player of the Year
- 2003 McDonald’s High School All-American
- 2003 McDonald’s All-American Game 2003
- 2003 EA Sports Roundball Classic MVP
- 2003 Jordan Capital Classic MVP
- Number 23 retired by St. Vincent-St. Mary
- St. Vincent-St. Mary Hall of Fame (class of 2011)
- St. Vincent-St. Mary home basketball court named The LeBron James Arena
- AP Athlete of the Decade (2010s)
- 3 AP Athlete of the Year (2013, 2016, 2018)
- 2 Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year (2012, 2016)
- 2012 Sporting News Athlete of the Year
- 3 Sporting News NBA MVP (2006, 2009, 2010)
- 2004 Sporting News Rookie of the Year
- Sports Illustrated NBA All-Decade First Team (2000s)
- 6 Cleveland Sports Awards Professional Athlete of the Year: 2004, 2005, 2006, 2009, 2015, 2016
- 19 ESPY Award winner in various categories (15 individually, four as part of a team)
- 2 Hickok Belt winner: 2012, 2013
- 2011-12 EFL Cup Champion and 2018-19 UEFA Champions League Champion (as part owner of Liverpool F.C.)
- 2017 NAACP Image Awards – Jackie Robinson Award
- South Main Street in downtown Akron renamed King James Way
- Six-story commemorative banner in downtown Akron
- Three-story mural in Venice, California honoring his signing with the Lakers
- Honorary lockers at Ohio State‘s football and basketball facilities